With the new year nearing, let’s talk about words of newness.
neophyte – a person who is new to a subject or activity; a beginner, a novice (also, a novice in a religious order, or a newly ordained priest)
The etymology is rather sweet, once you realize that the word originally meant “a new convert to a religion”. It literally means ‘newly planted’ (Greek neo- new + phytos planted).
– Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
. . .(of an author or other person): of recent times; modern; also, having a modern outlook
. . .(of beliefs, practices, or other things): modern, recent, new
Also used as a noun.
Please note that this is not necessarily complimentary. “Freq. with disparaging connotations,” says OED; “objectionably novel, ‘newfangled’.
– Samuel S. Vaughan and William F. Buckley Jr., The Right Word
Neophyte also has a botanical definition: "a plant that is found in an area where it had not been recorded previously" (WordNet). In other words, "new plant," which I thought was the literal translation of neophyte. That definition leaves something to be desired, since neophyte refers specifically to a non-native plant that has been introduced to an area since AD 1500. Those introduced earlier are archaeophytes (Botanical Society of the British Isles - BSBI).
This article provides more detail (p 915):
neophobia – fear or dislike of anything new or unfamiliar
[The term is often used for a condition familiar to parents: a child’s refusal to try a new food, particularly vegetables!]
Caution for the New-Year season: did you know that neophobia is hazardous to your health?
. . .Scientists find that neophobia, or fear of novelty, shortens lifespan, at least in lab rats. After testing the animals for neophobia (when plunked down in an "exploration arena" filled with a bowl, brick and other novel amusements, the scaredy-rats moved less than neophilic ones), [they] waited for the bodies to pile up.
. . .Neophobes were 60% more likely to die at any time than their novelty-loving brothers. The causes of death were tumors, primarily. But while neophiles survived their tumors for a while, neophobes quickly succumbed, apparently because neophobia keeps their cells awash in stress hormones. In people, too, neophobia seems to be marked by unhealthy levels of stress hormones.
– Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2003 (ellipses omitted)
. . .In a less enlightened time, kids who refused to eat their veggies were branded picky eaters. We now know that many of those youngsters suffer from something psychologists call neophobia, or the fear of new things. So instead of thrusting carrots at them or banishing them to bed without dinner, we turn the kitchen into a diner and cook separate meals for parents and kids. Or get takeout.
. . .This may keep peace at the table, but it doesn't solve the problem of getting the necessary nutrients into those growing neophobes – many of whom are still feasting on sugary holiday treats.
– Chicago Tribune, Dec. 27, 2007 (ellipses omitted; thanks go out to Kalleh for the quote)
Today’s term is very rare: under 20 “hits” as an English word, Google and Googlebooks. And every hit is a dictionary or the similar word-list. The term has never been spotted in actual usage, ‘in the wild’ as it were. (Hmmmmmmm: if it's never been used, is it truly a word, or just a case of dictionary-writers copying from each other?)
Nonetheless, even just the in-print sources manage to come up with be three different definitions. One of them pertains to New Year’s Day, so we’ll put the term under this theme. The three are:¹
1676: a gift presented at some solemn time; as New-years or the like.
1955: “a smiling word for a present a hostess gives her guest (as at a wedding or a party , or for knowing when to take leave).” [in other words, a goodie bag. – Wordcrafter]
¹ The three sources are, in order, Cockeram’s Dictionary, Bullokar’s Dictionary, and Dictionary of Early English by Joseph T. Shipley. Complicating this even more, another published source has different definition for ‘apophoretum’: “a consecrated vessel for holding the relics of the saints” (Orby Shipley, Glossary of Ecclesiastical Terms (1872).
I second the motion on the "gift bag" idea. The same term is used at Greek weddings for the sugared almonds wrapped in lace, the parting gift for guests.
An adult animal may retain features which closely-related species grow out of, in juvenile stages or in embryo. (For example, while the big toe of most primates begins as ours but later moves to become opposable like the thumb, our toe retains the original form.) Or development may be completed at a much slower pace than in kindred species. (For example, at birth the human brain has achieved only 23% of its adult size, compared with 40.5% for a chimp and 65% for a rhesus monkey.)
neoteny – 1. the retention of juvenile features in an adult animal
2. sometimes used to mean: the characteristic of having a relatively long period of development
[from Greek for ‘holding the new’]
Among mammals, primates are highly neotenic; among primates, apes are highly neotenic; and among apes, humans are highly neotenic.
– W. M. Krogman, Child Growth
The theory of human neoteny is .. I believe … an essential, if not dominant, theme in human evolution. … Compared with other primates, we grow and develop at a snail’s pace …
– Stephen J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin
The beasts and birds their common charge attend
The mothers nurse it, and the sires defend;
The young dismiss'd to wander earth and air,
There stops the instinct, and there ends the care; …
A longer care man’s helpless kind demands,
That longer care contracts more lasting bands …
– Alexander Pope
On a literature note, Julian Huxley experimented with Axolotl's, a type of tiger salamander which remained in the larval form, and his brother Aldous wrote a novel, "After Many a Summer" with that in mind.
I’ll take today’s definition from Jonathan Bernstein’s Dictionary of British Slang, titled Knickers in a Twist.
Hogmanay – Scotland's apocalyptic alcohol, violence, and fireworks-filled New Year's Eve celebration [accent on last syllable]
– John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps
There's that Nahuatl -tl again.
We’ll end the year with an rare term with two meanings for the season. It comes from Manx, the Gaielic language of the Isle of Man. (For those unfamiliar, the Isle of Man is a small self-governing island, population about 75,000, in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain.) Manx became extinct in 1974 but is being revived.
1. qualtagh – the “first foot”; the first person to step into your home (or the first person you meet) on New Year’s Day (sometimes, the first met after leaving home on a special occasion)
The qualtagh indicates one’s fortune: a dark-haired male qualtagh is good luck; a red-head, a female, or a cat, bad luck; and a spaagagh (splay-footed) qualtagh terrible luck. (In other words, you do not want a flat-foot first-foot.) Some women would stay home until the qualtagh came, for fear of going out and meeting the wrong sort of qualtagh. Other parts of the British Isles also had “first foot” beliefs.
– Hall Caine, The Christian, ch. X, as published in The Windsor Magazine Vol. V (1897)
OED quotes the following as late as 2000: Some traditions have been maintained almost in their entirety. Most households would feel uneasy without a qualtagh, or ‘first-footer’.
Long life and health to all the household here.
Food and mirth to you dwelling together,
Peace and love between men and women;
Wealth and distinction, stock and store,
Plenty of potatoes, and herring galore.
Bread and cheese, butter and beef.
May death, when it comes, find you at your ease,
Happy as a mouse in a well-stocked barn,
Sleeping safely in bed at rest,
And by the flea’s tooth not distressed.
Doubtless, this is related to Christmas and New Year's mummering...still practiced in two disparate locations: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Newfoundland, Canada. Google it for info.
Such a perfect word for today!
The Vietnamese have a similar custom: